Festival variety North of the border
EDINBURGH Festival is round again. As is their custom, the International Film Section send the London press a sample, but not in time for weeklies to review before the Gala presentations in Edinburgh are almost over.
Judging by the prolific programme, this year's films are many enough and varied enough to promise entertainment of some kind for almost anybody in reach of Edinburgh between August 16th (already gone) and 23rd, though these include several dates rather dauntingly described as "Portuguese Event" or "Raul Ruiz Event". There are boasts too of violence in a "walled-in maximum security prison" (The new John Carpenter thriller, Escape from New York) and a State Penitentiary (Michael Mann's Violent Streets showing on the closing night) which hardly sounds in tune with the prim and prissy image sometimes attributed to Edinburgh.
The offering chosen to show the London Press, Maeve (Edinburgh, Wednesday 19th) was a modest little sale of Belfast, a British Film Institute production made by Pat Murphy and John Davies. It is a nicely photographed poetic-looking andsounding piece about the return of a Northern Irish girl from troubled Belfast and the scenes and memories of her youth. The film's concern is more with the domestic atmosphere than the actual threats and dangers. But the flashes back and forth between present realities and Maeve's memories are confusing, and the film's mild attractions too spun out over 110 minutes.
Of one coup Edinburgh may legitimately boast. The great Abel Gance's Napoleon. a silent film made half a century ago and now restored and resuscitated by Kevin Brownlow, which was such an event in London last year. It is to be shown in Edinburgh at the Playhouse on Sunday 23rd from 10.30 to 17.30 and accompanied by the live Wren Orchestra, conductor Carl Davis, which was such an important factor in the film's London triumph at the Odeon and at the Empire before the only film audience I have ever been among who stood up and cheered, London too has its revival in Alain Resnais' Muriel ("A'', 1963), Camden Plaza). This third of Resnais' major films was often said to be a move towards realism from his mysterious poetic puzzle pictures, Hiroshima. Mon Amour and Last Year in Marienbad. But its many-layered relationships and elusive memory-shifts create as strikingly similar confusion to those in the more primitive Maeve. Nevertheless, and especially since Providence, Resnais has maintained his status as one of the great film-makers; and the revival of any of his key films is a welcome and worthwhile opportunity.
As I was setting out to see In God We Trust ("AA" — should surely be 'X' — Plaza 3) an acquaintance tipped me off: "I heard its unspeakable." After sitting through it I found him very accurately informed. I would endorse the verdict "unspeakable", and deem it quite unfit to review in a Christian journal, but that the title seems to invite a warning. Even it' in this country, blasphemy were no longer a crime at law. it can hardly be recommended for light entertainment to professing Christians.
The emergence of Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman), an eccentric Trappist monk, on the outside of the monastery's "turn" to set out on his mission to collect funds for the monastery's mortgage, could have been harmlessly funny.
Unfortunately it loses no time in launching into offensive vulgarity, going on to take the name and fame of Our Lady as well as Our Lord in vain, as Br Ambrose takes up with a "hooker" called Mary (not unsympathetically played by Louise Lasser).
I always have some difficulty in distinguishing Marty Feldman, who must take his lion's share of the blame for being director and co-author as well as star, from Monty Python. After the Life of Brian, what the clowns have in common would seem to be their mutual discovery of the Gospels as a mine of dirty jokes and blasphemous slapstick. One of the obvious faults of In God We Trust is that it hardly ever succeeds in being funny, however hard it tries. The only benign growth it sprouts is (for a very few moments) Wilfred Hyde-White's beautiful sketch of Abbot. It is shocking too to see Dr Sebastian Melmoth, the monstrous travelling evangelist, played by Peter Boyle, who once told me he had been seminarytrained to become a priest. After truly unspeakable adventures. the travelling evangelist's van, and his quest, reach Richard Pryor, the black actor, with his face and hair whitened to play G.O.D. (sic). You have been warned.
Two of Hollywood's most versatile and accomplished hardworkers have been among the past month's obituaries.
William Wyler had become famous principally for his direction of polished film versions of plushy stage _productions like The Little Foxes and Henry James The Heiress. But he could do many other genres of film and had done since 1925 when as an assistant director he began directing Western shorts.
Wyler first came into my ken. both personally and on paper — or rather celluloid — in 1936 when he was called in to finish Come and Get It which had had shooting troubles. This vital and vivid adventure story which starred Edward Arnold and the lovely Frances Farmer (later a Hopwood tragedy) was not a unanimous success. But on the filn paper where I then worked we ve re all so enthusiastic about it t hat we kept up mention of the filrr for nineteen weeks?
This was well before Wyler's sucess with These Three. staring Merle Oberon and Miiiarn Hawkins, or even Wiche ring Heights starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Obron; and the great Jezebel in which he had hoped to let Bette Owls caut-Scarlett Vivien Leigh. Care the war, arid Wyler made docanentaries far the US Air Forte until perhaps his supreme triumph-with his great end-of-war hit rite Best Years of Our Lives.
Alotlher all-rounder who died a cily or two after Wyler was Mei-yn Douglas. Douglas really spainecl two, if not three film carers . First as an elegant, soplisticzated leading man for Gallo i n As You Desire Me and aboe all Ninatcika (It would be kiner t o all concerned to forget her list terrible film for M-G-M, Twtfac-ed Woman).
ASo last month the centenary of athird great veteran, Cecil B. de Idle, almost THE founding fat ler of Hollywood, was celoraxted on BBC-1, in a protanri me brilliattly written and prenitd by Barry Norman.
Freda Bruce Lockhart